Council chiefs have been accused of ‘consistently ignoring warnings’ after risking the council’s finances and reputation over Spaces for People schemes.
The criticism came after Edinburgh City Council’s internal auditors published a damning report into the implementation of Spaces for People – specifically the lack of consultation with residents and the lack of a financial plan for ending the scheme.
However, the SNP/Labour administration says it was facing ‘extremely challenging timelines’ when the schemes were first implemented’ and that issues have now been addressed.
Although the council has now consulted extensively with the city’s residents, and has budgeted for making some schemes permanent and scrapping others, auditors took aim at the ‘significant and/or numerous control weaknesses’ that were prevalent when the scheme was first implemented.
The damning report gave the council a ‘red’ rating – the second worst possible – which means ‘significant and/or numerous control weaknesses were identified, in the design and/or effectiveness of the control environment and/or governance and risk management frameworks’.
Labour Colinton and Fairmilehead councillor Scott Arthur said “Although it is a little dated now, this is a damning report. It does, however, explain why the Spaces for People Programme has been so controversial in Edinburgh.
“Many of the points identified by the auditor have been raised by the public many times.
“Whether people love Spaces for People or hate it, there can be no doubt that this damning Internal Audit judgement could have been avoided if residents were listened to.
“Not only were the expectations of people in Edinburgh not met, the council did not even comply with the community engagement guidance set by Sustrans.”
Liberton and Gilmerton councillor, and SNP transport convener Lesley Macinnes defended the scheme however, and said the council had worked hard in challenging circumstances to tackle issues as they arose.
She commented “As recognised by the internal audit, we faced extremely challenging timelines when assessing and prioritising project proposals for urgent implementation in early 2020.
“This was to support the Scottish Government’s guidance for physical distancing as a key requirement for tackling the COVID crisis.
“Over the last year and a half, officers have worked extremely hard to address issues in the project’s approach, such as the retrospective publication of prioritisation outcomes or the creation of a programme risk register.
“For the duration of the programme, the team also reported all proposals to the council’s Incident Management Team and sought to act on public feedback, including the introduction of additional measures as a result of suggestions received through the Commonplace consultation.
“Since the audit was carried out we’ve already made several changes which address some of the issues identified, such as the incorporation of public feedback into the review of existing schemes and the development of detailed exit costing.”